One of the early lessons most of us learn is that not every thought or feeling needs to be spoken. There are certain times when it is better to keep it to yourself or even to try to keep it from yourself (I’m looking at you embarrassing moment in the gym locker room that I’ve tried to forget!).
But there are other times when sweeping it under the rug is a dangerous move. When instead of being harmless dust, the ignored material is caustic, reactive, maybe even explosive and in need of neutralization before it is buried and left for dead.
Are you being honest with yourself?
It starts here. Are you in denial about the situation because you’re too afraid to face it head-on? Are you tempted to sweep it under the rug because you want to pretend it never happened? Trust me on this one, hiding uncomfortable truths from yourself will never lead to anything good.
If you answered “no,” it’s time to get real with yourself. Trust in you that you can handle whatever it is.
Are you attempting to hide the truth from another?
Unless we’re talking about a child, it is never appropriate for you to be the gatekeeper of another’s truth. That doesn’t mean you have to tell everything (oh my goodness, please no!), but it means that it’s not your call to intentionally keep somebody in the dark about information that they have a right to know. At the same time, sometimes it’s not your business. And that can be a difficult call to make.
Are you avoiding the issue in order to keep from facing the consequences?
Every action has consequences. And trying to sidestep the natural cause and effect by denying the cause is immature at best and cowardly or manipulative at worst. You don’t have to open yourself up to undue punishment, but you also have to accept the ramifications of your choices.
This is an especially common reaction to strong emotion. We have a tendency to push it down. Way down. But that doesn’t work. Here’s another approach.
Have you considered the potential repercussions of keeping quiet?
My dear friend that I lived with post-divorce has chosen to be completely (and age-appropriately) honest with her daughter about her adoption and her birth mom. This decision was made partly because of the recognition of the possible fallout that could occur if her daughter only found out about her birth later. Sometimes the potential damage of staying mum is too great to risk.
Is the situation a one-time occurrence?
Is this a one and done, where once swept it will slowly fade away? Or is this part of a repeating pattern, requiring constant attention to keep it under wraps? The first scenario is a better candidate for pushing away. The latter depends upon the size of your rug and your endurance with a broom.
Are you experiencing shame or guilt?
Both of these powerful emotions can lie to us, telling us that it’s better to keep something hidden. They have us believe that if people saw the “real” us, they would no longer love us and we would face rejection. Yet both of these grow in the dark, feeding upon the very energy expended to keep them hidden. If one of these is your primary motivation, you’re better off revealing whatever is causing you distress, even to a neutral third party.
Is is a piece of something larger?
Sometimes it makes sense to sweep one aspect of something under the rug in order to focus on the part that is more important. Other times, this one part can snowball until it’s too bog to manage in its entirety. We can’t see the future and so you may not know for sure, but consider the possibilities in your particular circumstances.
If it is kept hidden, does it have a good chance of (re)surfacing?
Some things can be like playing “Whack-a-Mole” to keep down. And not only is that tiring, but the impact can be harder to manage and steer when it comes up unexpectedly. If it’s something that cannot be subdued, it’s best to address it in a timely manner.
Is it something the other person can change?
If you are sharing something that is bothering you about another person (especially with that person), is it something they can change? If not, maybe it’s best that you keep silent. If instead you choose to give energy to these thoughts (either alone or by verbalizing them), you’re only serving to enhance your own resentment and frustration. As they say in AA, accept those things you cannot change:)
Is it opinion?
Or is it assumption, your brain connecting data points and filling in the gaps? Sometimes it’s better to keep quiet when it’s simply a differing viewpoint (especially when there’s no hope of common ground) or while you gather more information.
I don’t know about you, but I got to practice keeping quiet about differing viewpoints a LOT during this past election!
Will it cause unnecessary pain?
Notice I didn’t ask if it will cause pain. Sometimes this is an unavoidable outcome. But ask yourself if this pain is essential. This also applies to yourself. Mental flogging has shown to have little effect towards making you better.
Here’s what it comes down to…
Are you sweeping this under the rug because you’re trying to hide it? Or are you making a conscious decision to not give this thing any additional attention?
And remember, looking away does not make it go away.
Questions asked. The answers are up to you.